The Uptime Blog
In October, Enigma was a guest speaker at the ATA e-Business Forum and delivered a presentation about tablets on the tarmac, which focused on helping aircraft mechanics get the information they need while out on the flight line. But the story of tablets is applicable to any industry where technicians must work in remote, restricted or challenging environments.
Tablets promise higher productivity for just about everyone involved in aftermarket service and parts: technicians, inspectors, engineers, parts managers, planners, etc. Tablets promise that maintenance tasks will be performed faster and more accurately, which will decrease mean time to repair (MTTR), increase first time fix (FTF) rates and reduce no fault found (NFF) events. The problem is that it takes more than tablets to deliver on those promises. For companies to realize these benefits, the tablet-wielding workforce must also be rewarded for their achievements, otherwise any efficiency gains might get spent on longer lunch breaks. Furthermore, industries that rely on organized labor may run into contractual issues before they get buy-in from mechanics and engineers. And so tablet promises come with some strings attached.
This raises an interesting question, “Do tablets offer any benefits that are independent of workforce cooperation?” In a word that benefit is “visibility.” Tablets offer visibility into the parts, processes, products and people involved in service and parts decisions – visibility into how people approach maintenance tasks and visibility into why some are successful and others are not. Tablets allow the collection and analysis of “big data” straight from the field (i.e. at the point of service). Such passive data collection provides insight to part selection, purchasing and service processes, and to problems with training and product quality, without being a burden on the workforce.
Despite all the hype about tablets improving maintenance and repair, the real opportunity is less about service productivity and more about sales strategy. Tablets provide the necessary link to understand aftermarket parts and service workflows. By exposing bottlenecks, inconsistencies and missed opportunities, companies can fully optimize their parts strategy and streamline service offerings. And that represents a much higher value than simple mobility.
Tags: MRO, aviation, aerospace, ATA, S1000D, PDF, Tablet, John Snow, aviation maintenance, InService MRO, iSpec2200
The 2012 ATA E-Business Forum was held in Phoenix this week and drew in almost 300 attendees consisting of airlines, OEMs/vendors, and technology providers. Phoenix was a great location with perfect weather and the topics being discussed—tablets, specs, 3D and RFID—were for the most part well-presented. The two most popular topics seemed to be: tablet opportunities in aviation maintenance; and the continuing conflict between S1000D and every other data spec.
Consistent with every aviation event this year there was a lot of talk about tablets. To listen to the technology providers, tablets represent a tidal wave of opportunity and airlines need to either buy their products to catch the ride of a lifetime or be lost under the crushing power of ridicule by being labeled old-fashioned.
Needless to say, talking to the airline attendees about the opportunity for tablets yielded a different story. Once you dig into the details you realize that each airline faces multiple potential issues/concerns including:
• IT support of multiple tablet brands (especially for BYOD)
• Security of airline and personal data that resides on the tablet
• Data synchronization and update schedules (revisions vary by content type)
• Digital signatures (most airlines aren’t yet authorized)
• Suspicion from maintenance unions (is this a ploy for more work with less pay/fewer mechanics)
According to the airline executives I spoke to, there’s a lot of interest in tablets but how soon they’ll be willing to implement is an open question.
Enigma delivered a presentation called “Tablets on the Tarmac – More Than Mobility” that introduced a benefit that’s been largely overlooked and offers significant ROI for maintenance executives.
The other hot topic was the slow-motion collision that’s unfolding between the S1000D standard and every other data standard used for aviation maintenance and operations. Most presentations were promoting S1000D and vendors were promising to convert an airline’s legacy SGML data into the latest version with low-cost and high accuracy. (Notably lacking was any discussion about converting PDF into usable XML.) In fact, one vendor tried to explain that they were “transforming” old data into new formats vs. “converting” old data into new formats. Despite this vendor’s best efforts, most in the audience were left asking, “You’re changing the data, which causes concerns about speed, quality and consistency, so who cares what you call it?”
Enigma also delivered a presentation called “When Standards Collide – A Unified MRO Process Across S1000D, iSpec2200 and PDF” that described challenges and offered solutions for working with multiple standards within a single MRO technical library. Many attendees claimed this presentation helped them understand why OEMs refuse to comply with standards and what airlines should do about it – STOP complaining about the lack of compliance and START owning the solution.
Based on attendee participation and detailed subject matter this was one of the better ATA E-Business Forums of the past several years. However, the ratio of airlines to vendors/suppliers is still somewhat disappointing. It may indicate that many airlines still don’t understand that controlling their data is critical to controlling their future. Since technical content is part of every MRO decision, and MRO is the second largest cost center in an airline, it’s time for airlines to get serious about managing the MRO technical library without relying on the OEMs.
Tags: MRO, Airbus, aviation, Boeing, technical documentation, ATA, S1000D, SAP, PDF, Tablet, Enigma, John Snow
Last week, the Danish Defense Forces sponsored SUGAIR 60 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The SAP Users Group for Airlines (SUGAIR) is a bi-annual conference for experts, executives and managers of MRO operations in the airline, aerospace and defense industries. Enigma was invited to describe the challenges associated with moving to the S1000D data standard and to discuss the opportunities for tablets in the hands of technicians. It was also an opportunity to update SUGAIR members on the SAP-Enigma integration strategy. (The deep integration with SAP has made Enigma the de-facto standard for delivery of technical information in SAP projects for A&D.) SUGAIR 60 had an impressive list of airlines and defense organizations in attendance and the feedback Enigma received was very positive.
SUGAIR attendees found the S1000D discussion very enlightening. The audience came to realize there is a lot of cost and effort required when implementing a functional S1000D environment; more than previously understood. Many of the “features” touted by S1000D vendors and consultants require custom implementation because OEMs (Boeing, Airbus, et al) have implemented the standard in different ways. (New standards often seem to make matters more complicated, as vendors try to establish or retain a perceived competitive advantage.) The attendee’s reaction reflects the concern expressed by airlines at last year’s Aviation Week MRO IT in Chicago. It turns out that because certain S1000D attributes are considered optional, or vary by OEM, most airlines and MROs won’t be able to reap the benefits of S1000D without a customized solution. However, Enigma did demonstrate some of the potential benefits of S1000D including:
- Fault isolation decision trees – dynamically generating the next information set based off the technician’s inputs, and recording the user’s path to feed a symptom/resolution knowledge base
- Truly interactive maintenance operations – where each maintenance step performed is passed back to the system of record
The next topic generated a huge amount of interest, which is the ability to make PDF data behave like XML...no conversion required. Enigma demonstrated the extraction of text fragments from PDF documents and the dynamic (on-the-fly) creation of job cards based on that PDF content. Furthermore, Enigma demonstrated the ability to link back and forth between XML and PDF documentation so that PDF functions essentially the same as XML. Given the amount of PDF that resides in aviation technical libraries (and the amount of PDF continues to grow) this capability helped many in the audience wake up to the opportunities to leverage existing data (without a complete data conversion initiative).
As in the past, the topic with the greatest “cool” factor was Enigma’s discussion and demonstration of a tablet-based solution. This is not a special tablet-only implementation of Enigma; it is standard InService® MRO using style sheets that have been tailored to the unique requirements and capabilities of a tablet device. The demo showed how single source access to the complete technical library can support routine maintenance as well as non-routine maintenance disposition and correction, and seamless, enhanced maintenance turnover events. By this point in the presentation, Enigma had run over the allotted time but the attendees readily offered more time to complete the demonstration/discussion.
For many attendees, the social highlight was a boat tour of the canals around Copenhagen, which was sponsored by Enigma. It was a great opportunity for members of SUGAIR to connect in an informal way, and for the many defense and airline organizations to get acquainted and compare notes.
Throughout the three-day event Enigma reinforced the strong bonds we've developed with many SUGAIR attendees, and we extend a heartfelt thank you to the members of SUGAIR and to the Danish Defense Forces for their gracious hospitality. Enigma believes that participating in SUGAIR 60 allowed us to help solve today’s (and tomorrow’s) aviation maintenance challenges, and from the feedback we received the airline, aerospace and defense attendees gained valuable insight for how to leverage SAP and partner technology to create success.
The December 2 blog post on Aviation Week’s “Turnaround Time” talks about Autodesk, a PLM software vendor, and suggests that the latest offering 1) qualifies as social media, and 2) will bring new opportunities for aerospace maintainers and manufacturers. (PLM stands for product lifecycle management, which is really just a fancy way of saying engineering data management.) With all due respect to the blogger, both arguments seem a bit of a stretch.
First of all, Autodesk 360 Nexus is a cloud-based PLM solution. Now just because it is “in the cloud” does not make it social, despite what the blog says: “So how does that relate to social media? Well, companies are finding better ways to share information about design data, and not just internally. PLM can make it easier for manufacturers and repairers to share data with one another for MRO purposes. So, it’s social. And it can be considered media, as companies are able to give each other pretty much any type of interactive video, graph or diagram that they need. Consumer social media tends to act as more of a marketing initiative for MRO companies more times than not, but this is the social media that gets the products out the door.” What does that mean?
Second, could it be true that Autodesk’s cloud solution is “the social media that gets products out the door?” Doubtful. The fact is that companies already share product information, with or without a cloud. Manufacturing companies are always looking to protect their intellectual property, therefore the benefits of cloud solutions are not based on sharing information but rather on reducing total hardware spend, improving IT staff productivity, increasing end user service levels, and reducing total spend on software licensing and maintenance.
Third, the blogger really stretches the definition of social media. Social media takes many forms (commonly blogs, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) Many vendors, including Enigma, have been making it possible to share information in various formats (or media): interactive video, pictures, 3D models, illustrations and diagrams. Just because a file format is 3D doesn't make the content “social.” And just because it's interactive doesn’t make it “media.”
The blog goes on to say: “… Autodesk’s command of the cloud will allow for more lightweight data, so maintenance technicians will eventually be able to look at information on their tablets and phones without much trouble at all. Again, doing CAD on a tablet is not going to happen yet, but imagine the types of apps for MRO that could come out of the woodwork if companies are using PLM more and more. Not many PLM solutions use the cloud yet, so I have a feeling that Autodesk is going to bring on many new opportunities that MROs haven’t even begun to think about yet. At a very simple level, PLM is a system for maintaining a product throughout its lifecycle, and the last stages of that include maintenance, repair and overhaul for aerospace components.
Now that statement is scary because it stretches the truth on so many levels. CAD/CAM systems have been spitting out 3D engineering data for over 20 years. For the past 10 years engineering managers have been trying to justify their CAD/CAM budget by claiming it helps in maintenance. It hasn’t happened yet. Why? Because the needs of engineering and the needs of maintenance are different, and engineering owns the data. In fact, Enigma has supported 3D data for many years but none of our customers use it. (That said, Enigma demonstrates this capability to almost every potential customer.) In the real world, 3D might be good for training mechanics but it’s not very practical in practice. Give a skilled mechanic a decent drawing with an integrated parts list and they’ll outperform the guy with the 3D glasses every time. (It's just faster.)
Is it true that maintenance technicians will use tablets in their daily work? Yes, that’s why Enigma supports tablets. Could technicians use a cloud-based solution for this purpose? Yes, that’s why Enigma provides a cloud solution. (But again, it’s about controlling costs not to be “social.”) Do technicians need a PLM solution to perform their work? No.
Although PLM vendors have a significant role in design and manufacturing, their solutions seldom play a role for mechanics (though the vendors would undoubtedly like to change that). In two decades of Enigma supporting maintenance organizations, we have yet to see PLM be effective. (Despite what Autodesk, PTC and Dassault Systèmes want you to believe.)
Should there be a feedback loop between the maintenance staff and design engineers? Yes. And for many MRO organizations this feedback loop already exists. Enigma InService MRO is the prime example of an IT solution that enables maintenance planners and technicians to publish, share and revise (update) all technical content, including PLM illustrations such as schematics and drawings. Furthermore, users can attach notes to parts, schematics and service procedures, to collaborate with fellow technicians, planners and even the engineers at the OEM.
Finally, it’s questionable whether Autodesk has “command of the cloud.” No vendor can stake that claim. We don’t mean to be too negative toward our friends in the PLM world, but supporting engineers is very different from supporting mechanics. Just because you’re using buzzwords like “cloud, social and media” doesn’t mean you’ve figured it out.